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Whether we like it or not, the future is likely to be largely lead-free at some point

Those who wish to defend the use of lead shot should not defame the alternatives, or they risk tarnishing the wider shooting community, says Alasdair Mitchell

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Steel shot, shotgun cartridges and bag

During the battle to save hunting with hounds, some hunters alienated chunks of the shooting community by claiming that shooting was a less humane method of fox control. They even made unflattering observations about pheasant rearing. I doubt it made any difference to the progress of the ban, but they certainly upset a lot of otherwise supportive gamekeepers and fox shooters who resented being demonised in a diversionary tactic. Foxhunting was never going to be saved by slagging off shooting.

Fast forward to today, and we see something not dissimilar in the fight against an outright legal ban on lead ammunition. Three years ago, all the main shooting organisations got their act together and came up with a joint approach. A few of the smaller bodies dissented. They are perfectly entitled to do so. But they should think of the bigger picture before making ill-founded allegations about non-lead alternatives. Otherwise, they risk replicating the same mistake gamekeepers complained about during the hunting debate.

I’ve read one organisation’s submission to the UK Reach consultation that cast various aspersions on copper bullets and steel shot. Mostly, these allegations were little more than anecdote and subjective opinion, or comparisons cherry-picked from very different situations.

The problem is that unjustified claims about non-lead may be lapped up by the anti-shooting brigade, and subsequently used to tarnish the image of the shooting community in the future. And whether we like it or not, that future is likely to be largely lead-free at some point. So, where is the strategic vision to cope with that eventuality? Who, really, is making an effort to future-proof the livelihoods of professional wildlife managers?

Wildfowlers have used steel shot for more than 20 years. For deer management, copper is rapidly becoming mainstream; are all those deerstalkers who currently use it really being inhumane and risking human health? How is venison shot with lead to be disposed of, given that game dealers don’t want it? You can’t buck the market.

When Fred Barnes pioneered copper ammunition in 1985, he was on a mission to develop the very best bullet performance. Legislation wasn’t a factor at that time. Copper bullets of various makes and designs have become commercially successful over the years, despite their premium pricing, for the simple reason that they work.

One of the more surreal arguments I read was based on the fact that producing steel harms the environment. Yet where does steel shot sit within the overall steel market? The UK produces seven million tonnes of steel every year. What are shotguns and rifles made from?

If the authorities can be persuaded to delay a legal ban on lead, and exempt certain small calibres and target shooting, then that will be down to the calm, well-argued submissions made by shooting organisations. If and when lead is restricted, will today’s leadites brazenly switch to the very alternatives they so publicly slated?